The Jolt: Georgia might play the starring role in Senate control

Georgia waiting to see if Perdue-Ossoff heads to a runoff
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Georgia waiting to see if Perdue-Ossoff heads to a runoff

What once seemed like a far-off possibility now looks increasingly plausible: Georgia could host two Senate runoff contests in January, both of which could decide control of the U.S. Senate.

Much depends on two factors: Whether Jon Ossoff forces overtime against U.S. Sen. David Perdue and whether Joe Biden wins the presidency.

The former appears likely. As thousands of absentee ballots are counted, Perdue’s once formidable lead over Ossoff has shrunk to just a whisker north of the 50-percent mark.

The latter is up in the air, though Biden has leads in several battleground states and is threatening in Georgia.

Control of the White House would give Democrats the advantage in a 50-50 tie. And right now, it appears Democrats will hold 48 seats and Republicans will maintain 50 — giving Georgia’s two seats the swing to make up the difference.

Even without control of the Senate hanging in the balance, a runoff is poised to put Georgia at the center of the political universe, with the ultimate vote framed as a referendum on the November election. It would also be a test of the state’s newfound battleground status.

But add control of the Senate to the mix, and buckle up your tall boots. More than $200 million was spent on TV ads in the Georgia Senate contests over the last year. That could look like a small down payment compared to what we’ll see by January.

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Sen. Perdue’s campaign put out a statement on the race Thursday, that began, “There is one thing we know for sure: Senator David Perdue will be re-elected to the U.S. Senate and Republicans will defend the majority.”

But it also included this telling line:

If overtime is required when all of the votes have been counted, we’re ready, and we will win.

Along with the Loeffler-Warnock Senate runoff already happening, that would technically double overtime for your political insiders.

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Our AJC colleagues reported last night on a lawsuit from the Georgia GOP and the Trump campaign over ballot counting in Chatham County. Local and state officials said there was no evidence of their claims.

Like other recent legal complaints by Trump’s allies, this lawsuit attempts to lay the groundwork for Republicans to try to claim voter fraud should Trump lose the state.

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Republican supporters watch returns for Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Raphael Warnock and Republican incumbent Kelly Loeffler come in at the Georgia Republican Party Election Night Celebration Party at the Intercontinental Buckhead Atlanta hotel on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Republican supporters watch returns for Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Raphael Warnock and Republican incumbent Kelly Loeffler come in at the Georgia Republican Party Election Night Celebration Party at the Intercontinental Buckhead Atlanta hotel on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)
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Republican supporters watch returns for Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Raphael Warnock and Republican incumbent Kelly Loeffler come in at the Georgia Republican Party Election Night Celebration Party at the Intercontinental Buckhead Atlanta hotel on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

“Raphael Warnock even hates puppies.”

With that, Democratic Senate candidate Raphael Warnock launched his first TV spot of the runoff cycle against U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, warning that “negative ads are coming” before assailing his Republican with a broadside of his own.

“Kelly Loeffler doesn’t want to talk about why she’s for getting rid of healthcare in the middle of a pandemic so she’s going to try and scare you with lies about me,” he says in the ad.

For the record, the Jolt likes puppies, too.

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Karen Handel has deactivated her social media accounts after losing her rematch against U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, an indication she plans to sit outside the political arena at least for a time. Her Facebook and Twitter accounts were deleted sometime after the 6th congressional district was called in favor of Democrat McBath.

Handel attended Tuesday night’s GOP event in Atlanta, but did not address the crowd. The race was called in McBath’s favor during the early morning hours on Wednesday.

Handel’s team said she will email a thank-you note to supporters, but otherwise has nothing further to say. She did not call McBath to concede.

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Next door in the 7th congressional district, Dr. Rich McCormick has also not conceded his race against Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux and, as we learned this morning, will not be conceding any time soon.

In a statement, McCormick’s campaign said, “Dr. McCormick has no plans to concede this election until all votes in the Seventh District are tabulated, reported, and certified.”

McCormick’s campaign also raised questions about the software Gwinnett officials are using to tabulate votes and added rather ominously, “Accordingly, the McCormick campaign will continue to evaluate its legal options.”

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In this file photo, Georgia Republican House candidate Marjorie Taylor Greene endorses Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) during a press conference on October 15, 2020 in Dallas, Georgia. Greene won the race for Georgia's 14th Congressional District on Tuesday. (Dustin Chambers/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

In this file photo, Georgia Republican House candidate Marjorie Taylor Greene endorses Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) during a press conference on October 15, 2020 in Dallas, Georgia. Greene won the race for Georgia's 14th Congressional District on Tuesday. (Dustin Chambers/Getty Images/TNS)
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In this file photo, Georgia Republican House candidate Marjorie Taylor Greene endorses Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) during a press conference on October 15, 2020 in Dallas, Georgia. Greene won the race for Georgia's 14th Congressional District on Tuesday. (Dustin Chambers/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Marjorie Taylor Greene spent her first morning as a representative-elect of Congress falsely accusing Democrats of voter fraud. Tech giant Twitter has now labeled multiple Wednesday posts from Greene as potentially misleading.

It’s a clear indication that Greene has no plans to change her often-criticized behavior on social media. It’s also a signal that the Republican Party that will need to get used to having a QAnon-adjacent, controversial figure in the Georgia congressional delegation.

Greene isn’t the only Republican helping spread misinformation, usually by accusing Democrats of illegally counting votes or disregarding ballots that may help the chances of President Donald Trump. U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, R-Monroe, accused Democrats and the media of incorrectly reporting vote totals. Counting is still underway so vote totals have fluctuated, but there is no evidence of illegal behavior.

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The last Republican on the DeKalb County commission, Nancy Jester, lost her race this week. She lost to Robert Patrick, a former Doraville city councilman, for a seat that represents north DeKalb. All seven commission seats are now held by Democrats.

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Some polls have held up very well as election results have rolled in. Others have proven wildly off-base.

But Senate special election candidate Deborah Jackson brought a specific polling challenge to our attention-- specifically the reliance polling data as a metric to determine debate rules and participants.

Jackson landed an impressive fourth place finish in the Senate special election Tuesday, behind the leading triumvirate of Sen. Kelly Loeffler, Rep. Doug Collins, and the Rev. Raphael Warnock and well ahead of better known candidates, Matt Lieberman and Ed Tarver.

Despite her relative strength, Jackson was relegated to the lower-tier of a two-debate format for the Atlanta Press Club’s October debate series because she did not poll over 2% in two non-partisan polls by mid-October.

It’s an important reminder that while polls can be a helpful barometer for the shape of a race, they don’t always predict outcomes and sometimes overshadow a candidate’s potential on Election Day.